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Bass Musician Magazine: Apr/May 2009 Issue Featuring Anthony Jackson

Something else that happened not too long after that was my mother taking me to see the great movies of that time, the late fifties and early sixties, the historical blockbusters of that time…Ben Hur, El Cid, and Spartacus. And the music for those movies was delivered from the great writers and composers of that time. I would sit in the theater and be slaughtered by this music. The combination of the music and the picture was so monumental, and then when we left the theater I would say to my mom, buy me the album, buy me the album. And she bought me the records, and after listening to these albums I developed a real taste for orchestral music, a taste for deep harmony, very deep harmony. Listening to chord voicing’s, listening to melodic and rhythmic juxtapositions, listening to things that I’m sure the majority of people that watched the movie didn’t catch, but I caught it. And that kind of laid the groundwork for me as far as orchestral music is concerned. I started discovering more and more classical forms. I was being introduced to very sophisticated music at a very young age.

And when I took up the bass guitar, of course a rock and roll instrument, there never seemed to be a sensation like…. maybe I should take up a classical instrument. It just wasn’t there. I never called myself anything but a bass guitar player—not a rock player, a jazz player, a pop player, a blues player, none of these—just a bass guitar player. It served me very well, and it prevented the growth of, what’s the word I’m looking for, snootiness. I never looked down my nose at anybody. I was on a path that I was quite satisfied to be on, listening to every single thing I could. I tried to find beauty in it. Listening to this music turned out to be a positive lifelong experience. My students would tell me, I want to be a jazz musician, and I’d respond with don’t say that, and don’t believe that, because someday you’ll hear something, maybe bluegrass or country, and you’re going to love it, but you’re going to be ashamed to say so because you’ve set yourself up to be a “jazz” musician. You should leave yourself open. You might be surprised at the glorious, Devine, hot blooded music that you’re going to hear from places that you never thought it could come.

Jake: Watching and listening to you over the years, I’ve always felt that you have a very deep sense of dedication to your art. With jazz sales, or I guess I could say possibly progressive music sales being at something like 2% or 3% of all CDs sold, what do you feel the “artists” themselves can do to perpetuate more interest in this genre to the buying public?

Anthony: I’d say don’t worry about perpetuating anything. Sit down and play… that’s it! Don’t worry about thoughts like, what can I do to make this more popular…. just play it well. Touch people when you play, or when you compose. Whatever you do, do it like there’s nothing in the universe that you’d rather do. This is what communicates. The ad campaign can certainly ‘populize’, but popular trends come and go. When you talk about the deep gifts, deep involvement, those things you do not have conscious control over, it’s best to let them go. Treat them as if they were a bed of fertile soil, and you have a handful of mixed seeds. You don’t know what they are, might be some oranges or lemons, cucumbers, whatever, and just throw them out in the field. Let them grow. Then enjoy what you’ve created.

You don’t start off with a plan. If music is something that you gravitated to because it sends you into a state of ecstasy, that’s all it needs to be, and that’s all that it was for me. I gravitated toward that state of ecstasy when I heard music as a child. It didn’t matter whether it was the Ventures, or a Beethoven concerto. One of the first classical records I found in my parents collection, I think I was about five, and I can’t remember the orchestra or the conductor, but I remember this man’s name because it would so odd… David Oistrakh, who was one of the greatest of all violinists. I remember some of the passage work, and I remember being drawn in to the expressiveness that he demonstrated on the violin. People would say who are you listening to, and I’d say David Oistrakh, and they would say, why are you listening to this, and I’d say, because I like the way it makes me feel. That’s it. And if more musicians did that, they’d be much less worried about popularization, commercialization, or anything else. Not everyone has the capacity to be driven into that state of ecstasy by music, but I’d recommend trying, and the way that you can come to it is just to sit down and “listen”. When it’s pushed on you, forced on you, when you’re made to feel like you’re not with it, it tends to create a sense of resentment. It makes people go, Anthony, why are you always listening to those dead guys, or, Anthony, why are you always listening to that jazz stuff. You just have to leave all that behind. Sit down and listen to some music… sit down and play it… and you’ll wind up with an unbreakable bond. I’m back to my statement, don’t worry about making it better, just do it.

Jake: Were there other musicians early on in your career that seemed to embrace the same diversity as far as what you were listening to, classical, jazz, etc?

Anthony: One of the first musicians that I was able to find that shared the same love for classical music that I had was Jaco. We got to sit together one time. I was rehearsing with a big band and he just walked into the rehearsal, and we discovered after talking that we each had this musical interest. And we were going to get together and listen to some recordings and just have a ball because we felt the same way as far as being open to a wide range of music.

So, who “do” you talk to about this, about listening to a particular violinist or a pianist? We should be able to be in a room filled with string players, and yet still be able to talk about Moby Grape. You see, the string players just wouldn’t get that. I did an album for Quincy Jones called Sounds…And Stuff Like That. The tune was Tell me a Bedtime Story by Herbie Hancock, which I think was on that album, and somebody, I don’t remember who, transcribed Herbie’s solo on that take. The transcription was given to a violinist, a good friend of mine named Harry Lookossky, an amazing classical player that you would see on all of the major string section sessions. He site read the solo. Then he read it again and octave higher. I think he did something like fifteen passes, and about the same number of overdubs, all by sight in different registers… pretty amazing. So I asked him one day, why didn’t you just improvise your solo, and he said, I can’t. I’m not able to improvise. And I said, you’re kidding me. So you mean that you can swing a great jazz violin, but only when it’s written out? He said yeah, I never learned to improvise. Harry by this time was in his sixties. It was amazing, and I thought, what a waste. He said, I’ve been playing violin for 60 years and I can’t improvise, at all. I can fool around and pick out notes and things, but it’s awful.

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